FAQ creation thread 2: Son of "Shall We Make a FAQ?". This time, it's personal...

I will defer to the opinions and guidance of geeks whose headphone kung-fu is superior to mine. Saturnine, MisterX, et. al., give me your best shot, baby.
I've tried to keep the "what is best" analysis focused more on process rather than results, i.e. how to locate the right product, but not what that product is. After all, there is hardly a one-size fits all option, however some Creative marketing dudes might disagree.
Didn't you get the latest press release from Creative? The X-Fi is like seventeen thousand times faster than anything, so of course it's what everybody needs, from Grandma who's deaf in one ear, to studio execs mixing the next big SACD at Telarc.
Mister X said:
You ready to tackle the inevitable "what headphones are best for me" question? :D

I think a basic headphone primer would help answer a lot of the headphone questions that we see........... but that is easier said then done. :)

Can we just point them to the Headphone Selection Wizard? Or do you think that that site isn't ready for newbie prime time?
GodsMadClown said:
Can we just point them to the Headphone Selection Wizard? Or do you think that that site isn't ready for newbie prime time?

I think the site is great, it even defines open/closed and circum/supra aural so thats even less that we would have to deal with :p The fact that you can narrow your search so specifically is very helpful, along with the listed street prices and links to the reviews - which you have to be approved first to write.

It seems the problem with the drivers link has been pretty simple: comcast decided to change the static ip to

I dont even know where the server is anymore so I am no longer hosting the drivers
Hey, just want to clarify here, Intel's HD Audio (a.k.a Azalia) can do realtime Dolby Digital encoding? Much like Soundstorm?
Intel's HD Audio (a.k.a Azalia) can do realtime Dolby Digital encoding

Not always.....That depends entirely on which codec the manufacturer uses.
Mister X said:
Not always.....That depends entirely on which codec the manufacturer uses.

Did a google and couldn't find much - is there a list of mobo's that do have said codec?
Okay, I found out that if the mobo has the Realtec ALC882D chipset, it supports Dolby Digital Live! I'm not sure about other codecs, like the ALC883, but the ALC882 does not support it, only the -D variant of it.


Huge debacle going on where Shuttle won't put in the ALC882D in the new Conroe-compatible Shuttle, even though it is pin compatible with the ALC882...
[size=+2]How to Ask Questions.[/size]

[size=+2]What sort of [equipment] should I get?[/size]
To make useful recommendations, you need to give proper information.​

  • Give your budget.
    How much are you willing to spend to listen to good sound? You might think this computer hobby is expensive but, the amount you could spend for audio can make what you spent on your new computer look like pennies. However unlike high priced computer gear, quality audio equipment does not really become obsolete. Good gear can give years, even decades of excellent service.​
  • Tell us how and where you might use the equipment.
    Do you plan to use your computer audio rig to listen primarily to music, play lots of games, and/or watch movies on your computer? List a few kinds of music, games, and movies you like. Give us the size of the room, and how the speakers and listeners might be placed.​
  • Tell us what other audio equipment you have on hand.
    It makes little sense recommending uber-speakers if you plan to run them off some crappy integrated sound implementation. Also, where available, old speakers or receivers might be rolled in to the solution to produce good sound for rather little money.​
[size=+2]How should I ask for technical support?[/size]
Please provide post as much information as possible. Tell us about your audio hardware, software involved, operating system, and other computer hardware. Describe how everything is connected and how to recreate the problem. Too much information is better then too little. Please be as clear as possible and try to use proper punctuation and grammar.​
[size=+2]Dealing With General Equipment[/size]

[size=+2]Which is better, X or Y? [/size]
Short version: Try it and find out for yourself.

Long version: Determining what is "best" is an inexact science, to be sure. A determination can depend on many variables, including the equipment and space used for the implementation, the criteria used for evaluation, and, of course subjective opinion. So, deciding what is best is really a highly personal decision. While asking for more informed opinions might introduce you to new alternatives, ultimately the best way to evaluate any given piece of equipment is with experience.

Preferably, you would audition it in the final implementation. That means that you want to hook it up to the source that you will use, in the space that you will use, and listening from the position that you will use. You can go buy gear from a decent store, audition it at home, and return it if you don't like it. Failing that, you should audition it in the store, keeping as many things like your final implementation as practical.

It is highly recommended to have as little dead air between samples as possible. Auditory memory is notoriously transient, with decent recall being measured at around 5-10 seconds. Also, use familiar music. You might find that you will hear new aspects of a familiar recording when played on better equipment.
[size=+2]How do I deal with noise in my audio?[/size]

Noise in your output can be caused by many sources. An effective way to troubleshoot is based on cost of repair, attempting no cost solutions before trying more expensive fixes.

If you are using the "cd-audio" cable from your CD-rom drive, unplug it and throw it in the trash. The IDE connection has been able to carry CD audio data since Windows 95, and there is no good reason not to use it. Also disable any unneeded inputs from your soundcard's mixer. It is a good practice to always disable the mic and auxiliary inputs when not using. These controls can be accessed by clicking the "advanced" button in the volume control section of "Sound and Audio Devices" in the Windows control panel. Finally, if using a PCI soundcard, it should be plugged into the PCI slot farthest from the Video card, to reduce the possibility of interference .

Next, look at your output cables. Try to move them away from other cabling, especially power cords. If proximity is unavoidable, try to run the lines perpendicular to one another. Shielded cables will help auxiliary any inductive noise issues from neighboring cables. Ask in the forum for recommendations on good shielded cables if you think it may solve your problems. Digital signals can produce a good deal of electro-magnetic interference (EMI), which can play havoc with analog signals of the same frequency range as the EMI.

Now if the noise still persists, after insuring the unneeded inputs are disabled, no analog cables inside the case, and resolving potential external cabling problems , then you can be certain it's a hardware issue of some sort.

To find out the hardware issues, you need to carefully examine your PC, and start ruling out peices of hardware. If it's watercooled, it could be the pump, or the AC line that is going inside...keep in mind AC frequency is 60hz...which is in the audible range as bass notes. If it happens when using your mouse, switch it over to either USB or PS/2 and see if the noise persists. You will need to keep searching until you find it. Because there can be a wide variety of causes, there is no single solution.

In some cases with onboard sound, you may find they did not incorporate adequate shielding to their design, allowing noise to get into the line even before it gets to the miniplug jacks on the back of the case. In those instances of a poor sound implementation, the best fix is a quality soundcard. There are some very decent cards that cost around $30.

Finally, if the noise still persists, you could consider moving to a digital solution. A digital signal over S/PDIF is very well protected against noise. Dropped packets and jitter are something else entirely, and is not "noise".

Here's a quick list of stuff to check, roughly in order of increasing expense.

  • Unplug the skinny audio cable that connects your soundcard and optical drive.
  • Mute all unused input/output channels in the advanced volume control panel.
  • Plug audio card into slot farthest from video card.
  • Try both types of mouse connection, PS/2 and USB.
  • Reposition audio cables away from, or perpendicular to other cables.
  • Buy shielded cables.
  • Buy another soundcard.
  • Buy a reciever and use a digital connection.
[size=+2]Dealing With Digital Output[/size]

[size=+2]What's the deal with digital audio? [/size]
Digital audio is typically carried in a signal that conforms to the S/PDIF (Sony Philips Digital Interface, with either an optical or coaxial connection. Digital signals over S/PDIF are not all created equal. Here's a quick rundown of the three basic encoding techniques that most receivers can understand:

  • LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation): This is the basic 2-channel stereo format used by most receivers. It is an uncompressed lossless stereo (2 channel) audio format.
  • DD (Dolby Digital): This is a widely used 5.1 channel audio format for DVDs. It uses a very decent, but lossy compression.
  • DTS (Digital Theater Systems): This is another 5.1 channel audio format that many consider superior to DD because it uses a higher-bitrate compression algorithm that is less "lossy" than Dolby Digital.
Every soundcard that has a digital output can encode an LPCM stream. They can also usually be configured to "pass-through" streams from content with Dolby Digital or DTS audio, such as DVDs.

[size=+2]What is Soundstorm? or... What is Dolby Digital Live or DICE? [/size]
Some sound implementations, such as SoundStorm, have an encoder chip that runs the Digital Interactive Content Encoder (DICE) or Dolby Digital Live encoder that takes any audio information from your PC and encodes it into a Dolby Digital stream.

These implementations can encode audio output into a Dolby Digital stream in real time. Consumer hardware solutions include nVidia SoundStorm, Intel HD Audio, and the HiTec HDA Digital Mystique.​
[size=+2]Why use digital output?[/size]

Usually the DAC and output stages on an external receiver are better than those on a soundcard or motherboard. On an nForce2 board, for example, the output of the typical onboard solution is pathetic compared that on most standalone soundcards, and just about every entry-level digital receiver. With digital output, on may use the superior output of an external decoder.

However, many implementations, like those using VIA Envy or Creative Audigy audio chips, have excellent analog output. In common practice and with average budget constraints, there is little to be gained by using a digital solution, as the extra cost of the decoder will often come at the expense of the other components like speakers.​
[size=+2]Dealing With Creative[/size]

[size=+2]How do I make the new Creative drivers work with older Creative soundcards? or... How do I install drivers if I've lost my driver CD? or... How do I make newer EAX versions work on my older Creative soundcard?[/size]
For some bizarre reason, Creative doesn't want to let their customers download drivers for their hardware, only updates. If you want to download the entire driver suite, you can download the latest version here. It is the Audigy 2 ZS driver install that has been hacked to support all Creative cards since the SoundBlaster Live!.
[size=+2]How do I make my front panel audio work with my Creative card?[/size]
You need to rig up some way of connecting your various input/output connections to the front panel connections of the card. Here is a pinout guide to the front panel connector of the Audigy series (Audigy - Audigy2 ZS).


  1. analog ground
  2. analog headphone left channel
  3. audio backpanel mute (short to ground to mute the backpanel output, for automute when headphones are plugged in)
  4. analog headphone right channel
  5. same as #3
  6. microphone input
  7. key pin (shouldn't be there)
  8. VRef out (voltage reference for microphone)
  9. microphone input mute (ground when microphone isn't plugged in, +12VDC
  10. audio cable detect (not normally used, will be ground when headphones are plugged in)
[size=+2]Dealing With Setup[/size]

[size=+2]How do I set up my speakers?[/size]
You use trial and error.
There are many variables to proper speaker placement that we cannot hope to cover in this FAQ. The best way to answer that question is trial and error combined with critical listening. Here are some ideas.

  • Read the manual.
  • Position the speakers as best you can in a circular pattern around your normal listening position.
  • Occupy said listening position and check your results with an audio track you know well.
  • adjust position of speakers until they sound the best to your ears.
With that said, here are some pictures from Dolby. They are a good place to start.

Generalized 5.1 setup.


Generalized 7.1 setup.


[size=+2]Do I need that funny cable that connects my optical drive to my soundcard?[/size]
No. It's an obsolete means of transmitting audio from an optical drive. Modern versions of Microsoft Windows support digital audio extraction, which makes the analog cable redundant. In fact, it can even act as an antenna, piping electrical noise directly into your soundcard. So unplug it.​
[size=+2]How do I connect my PC to my home theater system? [/size]
The quickest and easiest way to connect a PC to a home theater system is to use a 1/8" jack-RCA adaptor. Plug the 1/8" minijack end into the appropriate soundcard output, and plug the RCA ends to an available input on your audio equipment.

Alternately, you can use a digital connection of either the optical or coaxial variety. This typically carries only a stereo signal, unless you are playing back a previously encoded digital stream​

[size=+2]How do I connect my PC to my home theater system to get surround sound? [/size]
If your motherboard supports DD encoding, then you can encode the multichannel audio, and output it digitally to the receiver.

Otherwise, you need a receiver with multichannel analog inputs. Get 3 minijack-RCA cables like the one pictured above, and route the soundcard's L/R, SL/SR, Cent/Sub outputs into the respective inputs on your receiver.​
[size=+2]Dealing With MP3s
(and other compressed audio)

[size=+2]How do I make good sounding MP3s? [/size]
Use Exact Audio Copy. Configure LAME as an external decoder. This is a good introductory tutorial to setting up Exact Audio Copy​
[size=+2]How do I convert a WMA file (or any lossy format) into an MP3 file (or another lossy format)?[/size]
If at all possible, don't. When you transcode from one lossy format to another, signifigant audio artifacts can be introduced. It's something like making a photocopy of a photocopy. With each iteration, more "noise" is increased.

With that said, you can use dBpowerAMP to convert them.​
[size=+2]What is the best MP3 (et al.) player software?[/size]
Use whatever you like, really. Pretty much all are free. Download them and play around.
Foobar2k and Winamp both have lots of plugins.​
[size=+2]What is the best music compression format?[/size]
Really, the best way to answer that question is try them out and compare them one against the other. The ABX comparison plugin for Foobar2000 is a handy tool for this task.

If you don't want to rerip all your music if you upgrade to better your equipment, you would be well advised to consider encoding to some lossless compression format like Monkey's Audio or FLAC. This file can then be used as a source for the lossy format of your choosing for your portable player. While losslessly encoded files can occupy much more storage space, you can be assured that your music will always sound its best.​
[size=+2]How do I make my music play through more than two speakers?[/size]
The vast majority of music is stereo, so it is perfectly normal for it to play through only two speakers. There are several ways to matrix the stereo sound out to other speakers, taking the stereo signal and remixing it for more than two channels.

First read your soundcard and speaker documentation. Depending on the card there could be an option in the drivers to enable a multichannel upmix. Creative also has their own matrixing algorithm, called CMSS usually. Other cards use other algorithms.

Alternately, you could use your player software. A simple way to enable matrixing with Creative hardware is to enable hardware acceleration in Winamp. Foobar2000's also has DSPs that will do matrixing. The quality of all these matrixing algorithms is highly variable and subjective, so use critical ears, familiar music and your own judgment.